Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What Defines the Bottom?

Often times I think I have it all together.  Life is busy, it’s a little crazy running from one activity to the next, but I can handle it.  I expect myself to handle it and I don’t take no or failure as an option – at least not lightly.

What defines the bottom?  The bottom of your teaching career?  The bottom of your world?  The bottom of your struggle to live up to others’ expectations?  The bottom of your struggle to actually live up to your own expectations?

Well, I think I’ve hit it.

My ninth grade classroom is absolute chaos and I’m teaching through the storm.  My seniors are acting up and becoming too chatty.  My tenth graders are losing interest in Macbeth.  My juniors are still waiting for something to happen so that they can whine and complain about it and for me to let them.  My sleep is low.  My energy is low.  My happiness is low.  And on the other hand, my stress level is through the roof.  Absolutely everything, from issues with friends, to soccer, to teaching, to finding a job – it all seems completely out of control.

So today when the wall finally hit – literally – I broke down.  I’m not that strong.  I put up this front, this idea that I have it all together (which I hope that I usually do), but not today.  Not this afternoon.  I lost it.  I hit the bottom.

Both my cooperating teachers and my supervising teacher are disappointed in what I am doing.  To the point that Anne is close to actually taking over the class, but she doesn’t want.  I’ve let them walk all over me.  I have not done my part.  I have not been the teacher that I deserve to be.  That AHS deserves.  That Anne and Kristin deserve, but most of all, that each and every one of my students in all four of my classes deserve.  I screwed up.  Classroom management is not my thing.  I can’t keep the students quiet, I can’t keep them focused, and now it’s seriously interfering with the education present in the classroom.  It’s not that I did not know about it – I did.  It’s not that Anne and Kristin did not warn me – they did.  It’s not that I did not know what to do – I did.

The problem – I didn’t do anything about it.

So here I sit, at the bottom.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t do anything, because I honestly don’t know.  Don’t ask me why I should have changed things weeks ago, because I should have.  Don’t ask me why I haven’t been successful, because sometimes I question success too.  Don’t ask me why I am frustrated, because I know the reason – it’s just hard to admit when you screwed up.  But I did.  I screwed up.

I let many people down.

I let AHS down.

I let my students down.

I let Anne and Kristin down.

I let myself down.

So there you have it: A classroom, a life, an individual out of control and at rock bottom.

I guess I could sit here, walk around all depressed like, and eat bon bons all day.  I could question the type of teacher that I am.  Do I really give good feedback?  Do the students really respond well to my instruction?  Do they really enjoy having me in the classroom?  I’m not going to lie, but the thought crossed my mind once or twice: Am I really meant to be a teacher?

Maybe that’s pushing it a little far, but right now I’m frustrated.  I’ve had bad days before, but nothing like this.  There is nothing like being overwhelmed, stressed out, overly tired, and feeling like I am drowning in my own mess - Especially when it is a mess that I am responsible for, a mess that I created, and a mess that I need to clean up.

I was thinking on the way home, how do I turn this around?  How do I not let myself down?  How do I not let Anne and Kristin down?  How do I not let AHS down?  And most of all, how do I not let my students down?

Then I figured out that if I’m at the bottom, then there really is only one way to go – up.  So here’s the plan.  I work harder, but I work smarter: 

1.)    I take care of myself.  The best teacher with the best lesson plans and best students is not effective on four hours of sleep and no exercise in the last two weeks.  I need to, not have to or should, but I need to take care of myself.

2.)    Students come first.  It comes before soccer, it comes before skiing on the weekend, it comes before hanging out, it comes before other e-mail accounts, and it comes before time spent in idle hours (which has not happened, nor do I perceive it happening).  The students are why I am here.  The students are the focus.  Not the soccer, not the technology, not the crazy lesson I had planned – but the students.  I will admit that I have not put students first, but I need to be better at it.

3.)    There needs to be a balance.  A balance between grading and planning, a balance between content and conversation, a balance between school and soccer, and a balance between home and school.  I need to find time for everything, but what that looks like I’m still trying to figure out.

4.)    Finally, I need to stop making excuses and get out there and do something about it.  I am tired of being treated like a student teacher – taken advantage of at all points – But I have no one, and I mean no one, to blame but myself.  Anne and Kristin have done everything in their power and more.  Now it’s up to me.  I need to step up and I have no choice.

I can keep living down here at the bottom, like I am right now, or I can get up and do something about it.  I don’t like it down here – so I am going to have to change.  I have no choice.  If I want my days to be better I need to change.  I don’t want Anne and Kristin disappointed anymore, I don’t want AHS thinking that they made a wrong move allowing me to teach there, and I don’t want my students learning from a bad teacher.  So here I go.  I am going to pick myself up, dust off my jeans, and get off of the bottom.  That’s what I am going to do.

It’s not going to be easy, but I want to succeed.  I want to be happy.  I want to live up to my standards.  I want to live up to others’ standards.  I want to live up to the educational standard that I would want my kids’ to have in the classroom.  I want to start providing that, starting tomorrow.  No more old Randon, no more pathetic, nice, I’ll let you do anything, push me some more and I’ll give you more Randon, no more.  Student teaching is learning and I have learned, I have reached the bottom, but now I have six weeks to fix it.

It’s my job, my duty, my role, and my utmost responsibility to change this.  So tomorrow a new ball game starts.  Tomorrow, the ball is back in my court.  Tomorrow, I hold the control.  Tomorrow, I stay fast to my rule.  Tomorrow, I let them know that I screwed up, but that I am learning and that their behavior is not acceptable.  It’s my fault that I haven’t done anything about it, and I understand that, but what’s done is done.  It’s over.  I can’t dwell there.  I have six weeks.  Six weeks to turn around a chaotic classroom, an unengaged classroom, a whiny classroom, and a chatty classroom.  I don’t have options and I don’t have time.  It my back against the wall and it has got to be done.  So I have no choice.  No other choice, but to turn it around.

The bottom is not fun, so it’s time to get out.  Tomorrow the change begins.

So what will I do?

I think it starts from within.  I need to be ready to put the hammer down.  It is no longer Mr. Nice guy.  It is Mr. Teacher, a respected individual who will take action when necessary:

  1. If a student is causing an issue in class (talking while I am talking, talking while another student is talking, talking across the classroom, or getting out of there seat) they will receive one warning.  They might get moved, they might not – it doesn’t really matter, but they will receive a warning.  
  2. If a student continues their behavior I will kick them out of class, talk to them, and then call their parents.  I have to stop being nice and start taking control.  
  3. Finally if a student is still being a disruption in class and I have to kick him or her out of class a second time, it does not matter when they were kicked out the first time, but they are then getting a referral filled out on their behalf for their actions and their parents are being called.  
That’s the plan, across all of my classes.  No exclusions no opt outs, no special cases, and no other rules.  It’s that simple.  One and you’re done.  I’m fed up with it and it needs to stop.  So I have to find that teacher voice.  I have to enforce the rules and I have to make a difference.  My students are counting on me to make the difference, so I need to do it.  If that means kicking out fifteen people into the hallway, then fine.  If that means spending three hours on the phone talking to parents, then fine.  I will do it.  I want change.  I want it to be different.  I want to make a difference in the lives of others.  I want that now and I wanted that yesterday.  So it starts tomorrow.  Classroom management improves.  Life in the classroom improves.  My confidence level improves as I lay down the hammer.

I can climb out of the bottom one step, one period, and one interaction at a time.  So it begins: the battle for education, the battle for control, the battle for a good environment, and the battle for effective education.  I can have all the other pieces in place, but if I don’t have the classroom management piece, it is all worthless.

I don’t think you can truly define the bottom until you’ve gotten there.  I think I’m there.  Although, the good part of this story is that it is not over yet.  I have fifty-nine minutes tomorrow, fifty-nine minutes the next day, and fifty-nine minutes the day after that.  But it starts with me making the changes, getting a grip, and doing something about these words and the words that have been spoken to my cooperating teachers and to others.

None of this means anything unless I put my mouth and my actions where my words are.  If I can really get out of the bottom – and soon.